High-Stakes Irish Politics

NEWS ANALYSIS: Emerald Isle will hold same-sex ‘marriage’ referendum in May.

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DUBLIN — The Irish Constitution, enacted in 1937, acknowledges the fundamental human rights of the person and recognizes the importance of the natural family for the healthy functioning of society. The constitution can only be changed by way of a referendum, but the 34th attempt to modify it is looming: On May 22, the Irish public will be asked to vote on a proposal to allow homosexual “marriage.”

And as part of a package deal, the Irish government is seeking to rush through legislation prior to the referendum that would allow for homosexual adoption as well as a raft of other changes that Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny has described as the most important change in family law in the history of the country.


Agenda’s Path

This is the latest manifestation of a radical agenda on the part of Kenny’s government. In 2011, speaking in the Dáil (Irish Parliament), he accused the Vatican of being dominated by “narcissism.” Later that year, his government took the unprecedented step of closing the Irish Embassy to the Holy See.

In 2013, his government introduced a law allowing for abortion in cases of threatened suicide by mothers, without a time limit. And his government is also pursuing attempts to reduce the number of schools under the patronage of the Church by up to half.

Passing the May 22 referendum — labeled by the government as a “marriage equality” initiative — has been a long-term strategic objective of the homosexual movement. In 2010, the previous government introduced a civil-partnership law that was always viewed by the campaigning group Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) as a mere stepping stone on the way to full marriage rights. GLEN has itself received millions of dollars over the last decade from U.S.-based Atlantic Philanthropies to push this agenda.

The wording of the proposed amendment states, “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” If passed, this wording will be added to Article 41, the constitution’s section on the family. This article pledges the state to defend the institution of marriage and to “defend it against attack.”

Consequently, one of the effects of the amendment would be to pledge the Irish state to defend the institution of homosexual “marriage” against attack.


Rights of Children

As in other countries, the rights of children are central to the debate. Opponents of same-sex “marriage” have argued that one of the effects of the amendment would be to deny children a right to a mother and a father.

According to David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, voting for same-sex “marriage” will mean that Ireland would have to treat homosexual and heterosexual married couples equally, meaning that “it will become impossible for any adoption law to recognize a child’s right to a mother and a father because the law will have to pretend that when it comes to raising children two men or two women are exactly the same as a mother and a father.”

The organization Mothers and Fathers Matter has been established to oppose same-sex “marriage” on precisely this aspect of children’s rights, having had some success. The intense debate about homosexual “marriage” that followed the publication of the referendum wording in January allowed many people to hear child-centered arguments for the first time. The homosexual lobby was rattled, with the editor of Gay Community News arguing that, if these debates had happened closer to the referendum, they might well lose.

The government has attempted to derail arguments about homosexual adoption and the rights of children in the context of the referendum by introducing the Children and Family Relationships Bill. Apart from making it legal for same-sex couples to adopt (and thus depriving the child of either a mother or a father), it will also extend rights to donor-assisted human reproduction to same-sex couples and single people and will allow the identity of sperm donors to be hidden from their children until they turn 18.

Politically, the government’s ambition is to rush the legislation through in order to legalize adoption by homosexual couples by the end of March, in an attempt to take the adoption issue out of the debate entirely.

But the government is unlikely to be successful in shutting down the debate about children. According to Breda O’Brien, Irish Times columnist, the Children and Family Relationships Bill is itself of doubtful constitutionality, but by redefining marriage, the provisions of the bill would be given a “seal of constitutional approval, and they will be impossible to change back.”


Ireland’s Bishops

Ireland’s Catholic bishops have not been silent on the issue. Following their spring meeting, the bishops issued a statement emphasizing that they “cannot support an amendment to the constitution which redefines marriage and effectively places the union of two men or two women on a par with the marriage relationship between a husband and wife, which is open to the procreation of children. … What will we be expected to teach children in school about marriage? Will those who sincerely continue to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman be forced to act against their consciences?”

However, it is not clear how active the Church will be during the referendum campaign. The latest bishops’ statement “encourages everyone to think about these issues and to vote on May 22,” while Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has warned priests against the distribution of material related to the referendum in Dublin churches.

But in an March 19 address to the Iona Institute, Archbishop Martin stated, “There is something irreplaceable in that relationship between a man and a woman who commit to each other in love and who remain open to the transmission and the nurturing of human life, within an intergenerational framework which contributes to the stability of society.” He also warned, “In the current debate, normal parliamentary procedures seem rushed.”


Slovenian Precedent

If opinion polls are to be believed, the referendum may pass easily. Some polls show that 70%-80% of voters are in favor of the amendment. But the experience of many other Irish referenda on socially sensitive issues is that the early lead in favor of change declines dramatically closer to voting day.

And there is evidence that a lot of the support for same sex “marriage” is extremely soft — despite the large majority apparently in favor of change, only a minority say they are “certain” to vote Yes, and some government ministers are publicly worried about the referendum being lost.

Opponents of the change will be hoping that the experience in Slovenia, where early support for same-sex “marriage” was overturned when the public voted in a referendum, will be repeated in Ireland. To date, no European Union country has endorsed homosexual “marriage” by referendum.

Whatever happens on May 22 will likely have significant consequences for other countries and other moral issues. The international homosexual lobby sees changing Irish marriage law as a key strategic objective and views the prospect of losing the referendum as a tremendous setback. But the vote will also have significant implications for Ireland’s remaining protections against abortion, and it is now openly speculated that this referendum is an early test of the Church’s remaining political clout.

The stakes on May 22 could not be higher.

Elizabeth Adams writes from Dublin.